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A sad day for veggies, especially London veggies, when Covent Garden institution Food For Thought closes its doors for good on Sunday 21st June. A former banana warehouse was turned into a vegetarian restaurant in 1971, it was a favourite spot of mine. It was brilliantly quirky with it’s basement seating – and nearly always a queue up the stairs waiting to be served. It was always a mystery how the staff did it – keeping so calm while serving in such a tiny space. It will be missed.
I can see that this dish is probably mixing my culinary metaphors, but I did think this was a successful combination. I tasted my first dukkah a few years ago after I was given some as a present, and it has since become a standard in the kitchen, albeit one that gets occasional use. Dukkah (or duqqa) is an Egyptian condiment, consisting of a mix of ground nuts, seeds, spices and herbs. The jar I’m currently using contains sesame seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, coriander, cumin, salt, garlic, thyme and black pepper. I use it mostly as a coating or in this case topping, added to breadcrumbs or cornmeal. Every family would have their own blend of dukkah, so you could certainly make up your own mix!
The fine spear asparagus was delicious, although thicker spears would work well cooked a little longer. This dish would make a wonderful seasonal starter, or a main course with a big side salad and chunks of crusty bread.
Asparagus with Dukkah over Chilli Polenta
Large handful of fine spear asparagus, washed and any woody ends cut off
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp dukkah
1 tblsp fine cornmeal / polenta
Dash of sea salt
1 pint water
1/4 pint polenta (I find it works well to measure the polenta as a quarter of the water!)
1 small red chilli chopped.
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F. Put the asparagus into a roasting tin, pour over the olive oil and toss till well coated. Roast for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile heat the water in a large saucepan. As it heats, add the polenta, chilli and salt, stirring constantly with a whisk. Keep stirring until you have a thick, creamy mix, then keep warm over a very low heat (or just put the lid on the pan).
Mix the dukka and the cornmeal. Take the asparagus out of the oven, turn the spears with tongs, then sprinkle the dukkah mix over them. Put back in the oven for a further 5 minutes.
Serve on warm plates, by spooning up a heap of polenta and topping with asparagus spears.
Reporting from the retail frontline, I was tempted by some cheap strawberries at our local greengrocers this week, as I figured they were home-grown and in season. Now these guys would never win any beauty contests, but I was right – they were delicious! Just goes to show, sometimes the uglier, the better.